The Spanish Bourbon Kings of Naples

The house of Bourbon was a branch of the royal family of France. They ruled France from 1589, when Henry IV succeeded to the throne, until the monarchy was overthrown in 1848. When the sickly King Charles II of Spain died in 1700, at the young age of 38, he had no children to continue his family blood-line of the Spanish Habsburgs. Therefore in his Will he named his 16 year old grand-nephew Philip as his heir and successor. Philip, who bore the title of Duke of Anjou,  was the grandson of Louis XIV, the Sun King.

Thus the Spanish branch of the House of Bourbon was founded by Philip V. However other European powers opposed the joining of the French and Spanish kingdoms.  They saw it as an excellent opportunity for King Louis XIV to further expand his empire.  The opposing forces formed a coalition and there followed the War of Spanish Succession which raged for many years.  Finally in May 1712  Philip was granted possession of Spain, on the condition that he renounced any claim to the French throne.

Charles, the son of Philip V and was given the title of Duke of Parma and Piacenza in 1735. He conquered the Kingdoms of Naples and Sicily in 1734. He was the first of the Spanish Bourbon Kings of Naples.  He was crowned Charles VII of Naples on 3 July 1735.  In 1759, on the death of his father he became Charles III of Spain. He left the Kingdoms of Naples and Sicily to his son Ferdinand IV.

Emperor Napoleon

When this area was invaded by Napoleon’s troops it found itself  under French rule. This saw the abolishment of the feudal system.  The Bourbon royal family fled to Sicily.  Joseph Bonaparte, the brother of the emperor Napoleon, was sent to Naples to expel the Bourbons, and was crowned King of Naples by imperial decree. However Joseph only ruled Naples for two years as in 1808, Napoleon declared Joseph as King of Spain.  Joachim Murat, Napoleon’s brother-in-law, succeeded Joseph as King of Naples, however his rule was fleeting with the fall of Napoleon’s empire in 1815.

The Bourbon Kingdom of Naples and the Two Sicilies

The Southern half of Italy then became the Bourbon Kingdom of the Two Sicilies and was the largest of the Italian states. Ferdinand IV returned to Naples and was crowned Ferdinand I King of the Two Sicilies. On his death in 1825  the crown was passed to his son who became Francis I of the Two Sicilies.  He in turn was succeeded by Ferdinand II who ruled from 1830 to his death in 1859. The last king of the Neapolitan Bourbon dynasty was the son of Ferdinand II, namely Francis II. His reign was to be short lived.

Following the period of French rule and the reinstatement of the Bourbon king there was much unrest in Southern Italy. Many aristocrats and educated people wanted to see the end of being ruled by a foreign monarchy.   There was a growing sense of nationalism and individual responsibility. A revolutionary movement strove to establish a unified kingdom of Italy and a more liberal and democratic government and society.

The Risorgemento

The main figures in the Risorgemento were the politician Giuseppe Mazzini, and his pupil Giuseppe Garibaldi who became a general and an excellent military strategist. However the third party was Count Camilo Cavor who was an aristocratic statesman and diplomat who finally achieved the unification of Italy by enlisting foreign help and intervention. The Kingdom of Sardinia was pressed to support the unification of Italy and it declared war against the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. 

The Kingdom of Sardinia was pressed to support the Risorgimento and the unification of Italy and it soon declared war against the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. Garibaldi and his troop of volunteers landed in Sicily and successfully took control of the island. Garibaldi lead many more battles on the Italian mainland.  On 1 October 1860 Garibaldi’s troops defeated the Neapolitan royalists at the Battle of Volturno and he then headed onwards to successfully conquer Naples.

The Unification of Italy

Francis II and his family had been urged by his advisors to flee Naples and took refuge in the mighty fortress of Gaeta. There followed a long drawn out siege which lasted three months. Finally the siege gave way on the 13 February 1861. This resulted in the end of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies and the proclamation of the unified Kingdom of Italy. Victor Emmanuel II of the House of Savoy, was crowned the King of Italy on the 17th March 1861. He had formerly been the King of Sardinia.

He was succeeded by Umberto I who reigned from the 9th January 1878 to 29 July 1900. He was followed by Victor Emmanuel III who reigned from 29 July 1900 until his abdication on the 9th May 1946 in favor of his son Umberto II.  Yet, Umberto II’s reign was brief, it lasted just 34 days. On the 12th June 1946 Italy was declared a republic which resulted in the abolition of the monarchy.

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